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Patient and doctor partnership comes of age

The real-life stories of patients are key to improving the NHS. The BMA patient liaison group celebrates 10 years of making sure they’re heard. 

A doctor’s first priority is to their patients whose care should be at the centre of everything they do.  

Cath MacadamThis means that if NHS services and care pathways are to truly reflect the needs and concerns of patients, their voices must be heard in the design process. 

The BMA patient liaison group has been working to do just that for the past decade by contributing patients’ opinion to the development of the association’s policy on key issues such as NHS reform under the Health and Social Care Act.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the PLG, the group this week hosted an event on patient choice alongside the launch of a new online signposting resource that helps patients and the public find out more about how the NHS works and how it can be navigated. 

The PLG has also published a new paper that aims to support patients with the hospital discharge process (see ‘Helping to improve the hospital discharge process’, below) and includes real-life stories from the perspectives of doctors, patients and carers.

Key to success

PLG chair Catherine Macadam (pictured above) says the success of the group has been its ability to work in partnership with doctors on health policy issues that have a direct impact on patients.

She explains: ‘The BMA is the voice for doctors, but doctors cannot function without patients. There are many organisations that campaign on behalf of patients; the PLG is different. Working within the BMA we are able to help the BMA to represent doctors more effectively and influence government policies on patient issues. 

‘We make sure that the patient’s voice is represented in the work of the BMA, highlighting areas of patient concern and providing an informed patient perspective and an alternative viewpoint.

‘By working in partnership with doctors, we can help the BMA to plan and deliver their campaigning and professional development work with a clear understanding of its impact not just on the profession, but on those whose care they are charged with.’

BMA council chair Mark Porter adds: ‘The PLG enables us to truly fulfil the first duty of a doctor: to make the care of our patient our first concern. baby feet

'Clearly this can only be done when the patient has a voice in the planning and delivery of care, and the journey of recent decades has been to make that voicereal and informed, heard and respected. Indeed, to form a true partnership. 

'In its first 10 years the PLG has brought this voice into the BMA, and with the confidence gained over that time, should now be placing our policy under greater challenge and scrutiny.’ 

Resource rich

Since it was founded in 2004, the PLG has produced a number of resources for patients and doctors, such as its interactive guidance on self care.

It is recognised at the BMA annual representative meeting and has a seat on the BMA council and on six main BMA committees, including the GPs, consultants and junior doctors committees. PLG members are often asked to speak at national conferences and meetings.

Its other achievements include:

  • Tackling the difficult issue of a patient’s duty to use finite NHS resources responsibly. This led to the development of guidance to help patients understand their role in the process
  • A paper looking at disability equality in the medical profession including access to medical careers for disabled people. This was developed with the BMA equality and diversity committee
  •  Contributing to work by other committees, including the BMA medical ethics committee work on withdrawing life-prolonging treatment, conscientious objection and organ donation. 

PLG representatives helped the BMA GPs committee with its work communicating NHS changes to patients, and also offered opinions on out-of-hours care.

This week’s anniversary event saw the PLG and BMA act on a call from last year’s ARM to identify the real needs of patients and the choices they would like to make about their healthcare.

Speakers at the occasion were set to include Healthwatch England chair Anna Bradley and Patients Association chair Mike Smith.

The event aimed to better understand how patients exercised choice, what factors influenced how and where they received their treatment, and how providers responded to choice.

'Make me uncomfortable'

So what does the next decade entail for the PLG? 

For the group, it aims to build on its success in ensuring the relevance and credibility of the BMA’s work to patients.

‘We have gained the recognition of the BMA leadership as genuine and respected partners in the work of improving patient care for all, such that our input is now being actively sought in all key areas of BMA activity,’ Ms Macadam says.

patientDoctors leaders want the PLG to continue to question their actions.

Dr Porter adds: ‘So what should the PLG aim for in the next 10 years? To make me feel a little more uncomfortable.’

 See the PLG resources 

Helping to clarify discharge decisions 

A checklist to help support patients with the hospital discharge process has been produced by the BMA patient liaison group.

The group has drawn up a list of questions that are suitable for the majority of patients to ask about their care discharge.

The list is included in the latest PLG resource, Hospital Discharge: The Patient, Carer and Doctor Perspective.

The resource also includes stories from patients about their experiences and the perspectives of doctors on their care journey.

BMA committee on community care chair Helena McKeown shares the case of Jacky, who had to wait weeks for her mother to be discharged and transported to her daughter’s home following a stroke. 

Dr McKeown, a Salisbury GP, said: ‘We have a duty not to harm our patients; however, making them wait many hours, without knowing when they are going to leave, clearly creates anxiety and may harm our patients.

‘Discharge could be improved by more of our community staff, such as a stroke liaison nurse, going into the hospital before discharge takes place.’